Navigating the messy middle (and reconnecting with your “why”)

In my life coach role, I frequently work with writers. Perhaps so many of my clients are writers because writing is so important to me, and I really get the struggles and joys of the writing life.

At any rate, I often have clients who are at some point in the process of creating something — whether that’s a book or a painting or a play. They might be in the excitement (and trepidation) of beginning. Or they might have finished something, and aren’t sure what’s next for them.

One of the most challenging stages of creating something — and the place where so many of our fears and our icky inner critic stuff can come up — is the “messy middle.”

Maybe we’ve lost some steam with our project. Maybe we’ve lost our way a bit. Maybe — God forbid! — we’ve gotten a bit bored with what we’re creating. (And does that mean we should give it up and move on to something else? In many cases, no! It just means we’re in the messy middle.)

This is the time, my friends, for kindness.

Just how kind can you be to yourself — and your creative work — when you are in this place of feeling like you’re not sure you want to go on with what you’re doing? (I wrote about the importance of kindness to the creative process here.)

I remember getting lost in a store when I was a kid. I was probably about four. One minute I was with my mom and everything was fine, and the next my mom was nowhere in sight and the gleaming aisles of the store might as well have been miles wide. (I think it was Kmart!)

It was probably only a couple of minutes before my mom found me, but I remember during that brief window of time telling myself how stupid I was for getting lost, how mad my mom was going to be at me, and how the adults around me were very scary and there’s no way they’d help me.

Sound familiar? Even to your adult self? We learn very early to be hard on ourselves when things feel scary and disorienting. But this is exactly when we need to slow down, reorient ourselves to our surroundings, and breathe.

Once you’ve given yourself permission to slow down for a moment (or hey, how about a whole day?), it’s time to reconnect with your “why”.

What prompted you to begin this work in the first place? What made it so important that you actually began it? (Beginning is huge! We often avoid it.)

What was the feeling state you desired when you thought about creating this thing? It is always a feeling we seek, and not anything else, when it comes down to it. The “result” — whatever it may be — is only of value to us because of how we believe it will make us feel. How can you reconnect with that feeling?

The “messy middle” can also be a time that we’re tempted to compare ourselves to others whose middles are long in the past (we see the results of them having made it through their own messy middles, but not the middles themselves). Just as we sometimes compare our beginnings to others’ “halfway-throughs,” we can compare our middles to their finished products.

What I love about the creative process is how it is a metaphor for the process of living itself. While the beginning of a relationship, for example, often has its share of trepidation (can I trust? should I trust? Is it safe?), it also has plenty of excitement (the possibility of love! sex! learning each other’s secrets!).

The middle of a relationship, however, may seem frightfully unexciting. (Is that all there is? Is this really it? Where do we go from here? This is especially true if you are a reformed drama junkie, as I am.)

In life, perhaps even more so than in our creative projects, we are challenged to reconnect with our “why.” (And remember: you are always in relationship to your creative work. It’s a relationship like any other!)

Can we reconnect? Absolutely. The real question, though, is do we want to? And if we do, what might support us in doing so?

These are the questions to ask. Their answers will guide us back to connection, with our project, with our loved one, or they will guide us to somewhere else, where the love truly is for us, today.

What helps you through the “messy middle” in your creative process? How do you reconnect with your “why” when you seem to have lost it? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Earth Day! Let’s extend our kindness to this beautiful planet and all of its amazing creatures. In honor of Earth Day, my individual coaching sessions are at a special price, through the end of this month (April 30). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Coming up: My one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World), will start enrolling in May. Want to learn more? You can sign up for my newsletter to receive the details, here. You can find out about other ways we can work together, here.

Above images © Scamp | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Just2shutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Comparison and the “iceberg theory”

Sometimes when I am working with a life coaching client, I become aware that there is a kind of unspoken self-judgment going on for the client that has to do with comparison. It often shows up in a desire to give up on something difficult they’ve started, or a belief that “something is wrong” with them.

If we unravel these beliefs a little bit, we often get to a deeper belief that might be something like “If I were meant to do this, it wouldn’t be so hard for me.” This is just a shade away from “It seems so easy for _____. What’s wrong with me that it’s easy for her, but hard for me?”

Geneen Roth once wrote that we tend to compare ourselves to people whose struggles are not apparent. Which brings me to what I call the “iceberg theory” of comparison.

We’ve all heard the phrase “that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” alluding to the idea that there’s a lot more to a problem or situation than the little bit we’ve touched on.

We can apply this idea to people as well: there is always more (sometimes much more) going on beneath the surface, below what we see “above the water.”

This applies even to people who share a lot about their struggles. One of my clients a while back compared herself to someone in her same profession who revealed a lot about herself on her blog. My client said, “There’s no way I could be so comfortable with revealing everything about myself.”

Notice the assumptions there? One, that the blogger was “comfortable” about revealing things about herself and her life. And two, that what she was revealing about herself was “everything.” That we were seeing the foundation of the iceberg beneath the water, when maybe we were just seeing a little further down the iceberg than my client would have chosen to let an audience in on at that point.

There is always more — there is always stuff we’re not seeing in those to whom we compare ourselves.

When I started my relationship with my partner more than seven years ago, I compared myself to him a lot. It seemed like so many things I struggled with came easily to him. And some of them truly did! (The excellent coach Theresa Trosky posed this question to me at the time: So those things should be easy for you, too?)

At some point our relationship turned a corner, and I began get back in touch with my own strengths, while still appreciating his, and also to realize that early in our relationship, his struggles had been far less apparent to me than they are now. In the first few months, I could only see the “tip of the iceberg” of my partner’s self. Now, I see much more, but I still don’t see everything. Just the other day he mentioned something that had been really hard for him to do, and I was surprised — I hadn’t known he struggled with that.

I have also had the experience of comparing myself to someone who truly did experience a lot of ease and joy in his life, most of the time. It wasn’t that he didn’t have heartbreak or disappointment, but he handled those things with a grace I couldn’t fathom finding in myself.

I felt a strange and painful combination of envy and admiration for him until one day I got the lesson: I wasn’t supposed to be him. It actually seemed to be true that I did struggle more in a lot of ways than he did — and maybe, at the end of the day, that was okay, because my life had a different purpose, a different thrust, than his.

When I finally got this at a deep level, not only did I feel a huge relief (and found this person much easier to be around!), but I realized something that has continued to be a theme in my life since then (nearly twenty years ago now): When I’m comparing myself to someone else, it’s a chance for me to practice deeper self-acceptance. Because the more self-accepting I feel, the less I seem to have the need to compare myself to others.

***

The purpose of the iceberg metaphor is not to provide a way for us to point at someone else and say, “She doesn’t really have it all together — we’re just not seeing how messy her life really is!” It’s a way to remind ourselves of the humanity, complexity, and depth of others — that they, too, struggle, despite how it may appear to us on a given day.

When I work with a client who’s caught in comparison, we first apply lots and lots of kindness and empathy. Our current world makes it easier than ever to compare ourselves (not to mention there is a part of our brain that has the sole purpose of comparing, in order to help us survive!).

Then, we reality-check. Can we really know it’s true that things always go so smoothly for the person we’re comparing ourselves to? And even if life does tend to go pretty smoothly for them much of the time (or they’re just really good at handling it!), what are we making that mean about us? (As my coach Theresa helped me see years ago, just because something that was easy for my partner was really hard for me didn’t mean there was something wrong with me or that I couldn’t achieve it, too, with the right perspective and support).

At the heart of comparison, I’ve noticed time and again, is the belief that if we are struggling, there must be something wrong. With us. With our choices. While there are definitely times it’s possible to drop the struggle, a certain amount of struggle is inherent to our humanness. So it’s always worthwhile to do some investigating here about what is true for us.

What do you notice about comparison, for you? Does the “iceberg theory” resonate for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You are always welcome to subscribe to my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, for updates on my life coaching offerings, to get in on our community calls, and other good stuff. You can sign up, here.

Above images © Staphy | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Viktor Burkovsky | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Seven years of The Artist’s Nest

Seven years ago this month, I wrote my very first blog post (you can read it here!).

Seven years is a long time! (Five, I could believe — but seven? I often feel like I’m about two years “behind” and I need to catch up with myself somehow. Like life has gone by so quickly I haven’t been able to process it all. Can I just have an extra two years to process, please?)

Seven years ago, March 2011, I was fresh out of my training to become a Martha Beck life coach, and blogging was a way of letting people know about my new “thing” and sorting out the issues I saw coming up for my (gulp!) new clients and also issues I’d been working with myself.

But blogging here has become something much more than that for me. It’s a writing practice. It’s a practice of showing up. It’s a practice of pressing publish.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual practice for me, because it causes my “stuff” to come up. (Do I really want to write this? Do I really want to publish this? Do I really want to reach out and connect, with all that entails? It’s great to revisit these questions, and to ultimately see, again and again, that the answer is “yes.”)

There is something about sticking with a practice for the long haul. It’s a relationship. You don’t get the benefits of the relationship if you’re not willing to keep showing up, even when you’re not sure, even on the days you wonder “why the heck are we doing this again?”

So I’m glad I’ve hung in here for this blogging relationship. And I’m so grateful — and honored — to have connected with readers and clients I’d never have “met” had I not started blogging. These posts have been a starting point for some of my most treasured connections.

By the way, here are the ten most viewed posts on The Artist’s Nest from these past seven years:

When your downtime doesn’t happen

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Saving the worms

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

Knowing yourself: What words inspire you?

As any writer knows, it’s funny to look back at things you wrote a long time ago. With some of these earlier posts, I barely even remember them — I’m like, did I write that? (This kind of distance can be a great thing, as it helps you look at your writing — and yourself! — with more detachment. Which always makes me laugh, eventually.)

Just for good measure, here are three of my favorite posts:

Daily saving graces for hard times

Squirrel wisdom (or, the power of a good question)

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

Thank you, dear, dear readers, for your presence. Whether you’ve left a comment, shared a post, sent me an email (and some of you have done these things many times!), or simply “lurked” here (lurkers are most welcome!) — I am truly grateful. I’ve felt your presence, and it’s meant, and continues to mean, so very much to me.

Want to stay connected? My Artist’s Nest Newsletter contains brief updates on my coaching offerings, and other good stuff — like how to get in on our monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls. I’d love to have you there! You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Above images © Yanik Chauvin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and  © Lejla Alic | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Your resources and the seasons of your life

I’ve written here before about how important it is to recognize that our lives have their seasons, and that it’s vital for us to honor those seasons.

Something I see when I work with my life coaching clients is that we often have the expectation that our lives should constantly be exploding with growth — and if they aren’t, something is wrong! It’s not surprising that so many of us have this idea, particularly in Western culture — we live in an extremely growth-oriented world, where we’re fed the ideal of “bigger, faster, more.”

Many heart-centered folks I know are becoming mindful of the ways this “constant growth” ideal has harmed our selves and our world, and they are dedicated to living differently, to treating the world differently.

But, still, some of them (and I include myself here!) have a really hard time stepping back and checking in to notice what season of their lives it is, and what is required of them in that season.

And being aware of what season you’re in is important, because heart-centered people want to give a lot of themselves to the world (and thank goodness they do!). But in some seasons of our lives, we simply have more resources with which to give than we do in others.

For example: sometimes I work with someone who has recently experienced a big loss. Maybe a spouse or a parent has died, maybe a job has been lost (or quit), maybe an important project has failed or a large amount of money has been spent on something that didn’t work out. Maybe an illness has changed the scope and shape of their lives.

During these times (which in my training as a Martha Beck life coach we call “Square One” periods, or “liminal” periods), we simply have fewer inner resources — and often fewer external ones, too.

I’ve often seen clients lamenting — or really angry! — that their attempts at growth, at flourishing creativity, at building something, usually just won’t take hold during these times.

What’s going on here?

They’re in “winter”. And if we look at winter and take a cue from our animal friends, winter is a time in which we’re not growing new stuff, we’re not building new stuff, we’re not exploring new horizons. We might be underground, relying on our body fat to keep us warm and nourished until spring. We’re counting on what we gathered during spring, summer, and fall to get us through our winter.

But here’s the rub: We humans are not always that well-resourced when our “personal winters” hit.

Maybe money is tight. Maybe those we’ve always counted on for support make themselves scarce. Because these “winters” are also times of deep transformation, we may emerge from them feeling quite different from who we were when we entered them. (If you’ve been a one-on-one coaching client of mine, you know I am talking about what we Martha Beck coaches refer to as The Change Cycle here!)

So: If you are deep into a personal winter — if you’ve experienced a big loss, a huge change (and this can sometimes include what we think of as “positive” change as well!), or some sort of internal or external shift that’s really rocking your world — know that your resources are important right now.

And: They are probably limited. They are probably feeling much more limited than they were when you were in your “personal spring” — that time of lovely growth where beautiful, sparkly things seem to be sprouting all over the place.

Don’t try to make your life feel like a “personal spring” when, in fact, you’re in an inner winter. Be where you are. If your resources — inner and outer — are feeling limited right now, how can you preserve them? How might you bring in more without further depleting yourself?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to help myself through a (perhaps under-resourced) personal winter is to be as kind to myself as possible. I have some very clear ideas about what that means for me, and I encourage you to check in with yourself on this: What does being kind to yourself really mean to you? What does it feel like, look like?

I have little reminders around my home that guide me back to my personal definition of treating myself kindly: A sign with cats on it that my dad got for me in a Quaker-run shop that says “Be ye kind to one another.” A mug with the word Kindness on it that I use all the time.

(If you’re hitting a wall when it comes to treating yourself with kindness, I encourage you to check out the work of Kristin Neff, who has researched the importance of self-compassion.)

When I can remember to treat myself warmly and gently and with a huge amount of faith and trust in who I am and in my process, my “personal winters” are so much less hard.

Because much of the problem for so many of us is that our “default” is to be really hard on ourselves. We don’t ever need to be that hard on ourselves, but it’s especially damaging and unhelpful to be hard when we’re already in the hard that an “inner winter” brings.

It’s also important, in a world that is in so much need, that we balance our giving to the world with giving to ourselves (and yes, this giving does overlap!).

We’ll likely have more to give when we’re in our “personal spring” or summer than we do when we’re in our personal winter. This is okay. You don’t have to do it all, all the time. Others who are experiencing more of that “spring” energy will step up while you’re in your winter.

What do you think? What have you noticed about the seasons of your life and your resources (inner and outer)? I’d love to hear from you!

If you are in a “personal winter” and need some support on your journey, you can find out more about my one-on-one coaching work, here. I’d love to help!

And: My newsletter offers updates on my coaching programs and other good stuff. You can also find out through my newsletter about how to get in on my monthly Artist’s Nest community calls — the first one is coming up soon, on Feb. 28! You can sign up for my newsletter, here.

Above images are “Winter Landscape”, © Adina Nani | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “Winter Branches”, © Peter Zaharov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Why it’s okay to be “boring” in your journal (+ community call date change!)

A few weeks ago I received this email (and the writer gave me permission to share it here):

I have been subscribed to your blog for a while now and I notice you talk a lot about journaling and morning pages and how valuable they are to you. While I want to believe this is true, I have so much trouble actually writing in a journal. It seems like everything I write is so mundane I can’t stand seeing what’s in my own mind! So I quit. But then I’ll want to try again, and I do it for a few days and I can’t stand what I’m writing so I quit again. What is my problem? Should I be journaling or not? I feel like it would help me connect with myself, but I don’t actually seem to like it. Any suggestions?

I wanted to share this email here because this is so, so common. I hear similar reports from my life coaching clients and have heard them from so many others when I share that I’ve been journaling regularly for more than thirty years.

First of all, whenever something becomes a “should”, we naturally develop resistance to it. So, no, you “shouldn’t” be journaling. You shouldn’t be doing anything.

There are plenty of ways to connect with yourself besides journaling and/or morning pages. Just because you hear lots of people saying how great they are doesn’t mean you have to do them. Find another way of connecting with yourself on a regular basis if journaling doesn’t speak to you. Find some way of being in your own company and noticing what you’re thinking and feeling. It doesn’t have to be journaling.

But I want to point something out here: When journaling/morning pages feel “boring” or frustrating because everything spilling out of you onto the page seems “mundane”, it may just be that you are uncomfortable with connecting with yourself.

I write tons of mundane stuff in the pages of my journals. I write about how I couldn’t decide which pair of jeans to buy, because one fit better but I liked the topstitching on the other one better. I write about how I can tell I am getting a zit and how I would have died if you told me when I was sixteen that I would still sometimes have zits in my forties. I write about how we rearranged the living room furniture and how pleased I am with how it looks.

And you know what? I enjoy writing this mundane stuff in the pages of my journal. I enjoy it because I am not trying to be “extraordinary” on the pages of my journal — my purpose there, often, is simply to keep myself company, to know the contents of my mind.

We are all capable of focusing on lots and lots of mundane stuff. And if we like who we are, if we enjoy our own company, that’s not a bad thing.

And here’s the paradox: My purpose with journaling is to keep myself company on the page, to know my own thoughts and feelings. And a lot of times, yeah, that’s pretty “mundane”. But my purpose with journaling is also to break through all that stuff, to cut a layer deeper, to get underneath it all.

If I’m really freaking out because I have a zit, if that’s really bothering me on a particular day, what’s underneath that? What am I making it mean? That underneath it all I’m still an insecure sixteen-year-old? That my body is out of control? That just when I’m feeling good, I have to be reminded of how imperfect I am?

You see what I mean? We can use the mundane in our journaling as a jumping-off point to understanding ourselves better. And that self-connection and self-understanding connects us to others — because we’re not so different from anyone else. In keeping ourselves company on the page, we realize we are in lots of good company.

When people tell me “I hate journaling because I can’t stand how mundane I am and how I wallow in my own shitty inner stuff” I want to say: Welcome to the human race. We are all mundane and we all wallow, at times, in our own shitty inner stuff. And, we are all capable of going a layer deeper, or many layers deeper, and letting that very human stuff take us to the core of who we are.

I would say to the writer of this email: There’s a reason that even though you always seem to quit journaling after a few days, you keep on wanting to try it again. You want to know yourself. 

This is a very good thing. Because no one is ever going to know you as deeply as you can know yourself. Not a significant other, not a child, not a parent, not a friend. One of the huge gifts of being here on this earth is that you have the opportunity to know yourself.

People who have the desire to write, to create in any way, usually have a deep desire to know themselves. But sometimes we have a tendency to think this desire is “selfish,” because we are so mundane so much of the time. What if it turns out we’re not that extraordinary? 

Give yourself a break. Let yourself be mundane. When you make room for your “ordinariness”, you will find it so much easier to allow the parts of you that are extraordinary to surface. Because we all have so much of both. We all have so much of everything within us.

A dear teacher of mine once said, “Great writing is nothing more than the truth, plainly told.” You will never see this more clearly than on the pages of your journal. But you need to stick with it for more than a few days. You need to be so loving toward the mundane contents of your mind that you see that you are not so mundane, after all.

And: Due to a scheduling conflict, I’ve pushed out the start date of the Artist’s Nest community calls one month, to Wed. Feb. 28. Want to join me on these monthly calls? You can get the call-in info (which I’ll send out approximately 24 hours before the call) by signing up for my newsletter, here!

Above images: Top,  © Kasia Biel | Dreamstime Stock Photos; bottom, one of my earliest journals, with kitty.

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Why accepting where you are is powerful ( + join our community calls!)

(Scroll to the end of this post to find out how to get details on joining our Artist’s Nest community calls.)

One of the most challenging things about being human can be accepting this paradox: we need to truly accept where we are in order to move on from it.

That “moving on” might be actual, physical moving (from a home, job, relationship to a new situation) — or it can be inner, emotional “moving on” — our externals may look the same, but we’re shifting internally. (Often, it’s both!)

In my work as a life coach, I often hear some form of this: But if I accept where I am, doesn’t that mean I’m becoming complacent? Doesn’t it mean I’m settling for less than I want? Doesn’t it mean I’m giving up?

We live in a very action-oriented world. The problem is that we’ve been trained to be so action-focused that sometimes we don’t recognize the difference between action that is rooted in struggle, and action that is rooted in a sense of rightness (as in, “this feels like — from a place of peace or a place of knowing — the best next step to take”).

There is a subtle but powerful difference between true acceptance of where we are in our lives, and resignation. Acceptance is connected to an understanding of what we can control and what we can’t, whereas resignation is more like “I just can’t handle this. I give up.”

Sometimes we do need to be in that place of resignation — for a little while. It’s usually a sign that we’re overwhelmed and need to find ways of prioritizing and getting support.

It’s not, however, the same as acceptance. Acceptance has a different feel to it — it’s more like, “Okay — I’ve done what I can here, and now I’m open to seeing a different way. I’m going to take the risk of standing right where I am — because I can’t truly be anywhere else.”

Can you feel the difference? The great thing about embracing that place of deep acceptance is that we drop the rope. We stop struggling and resisting what is, and that creates a space, an opening, for wisdom to enter.

The wisdom we get is often something along the lines of “Let’s get quiet and take a time-out before we do anything else.”

***

Back in 2014 and the first half of 2015, I was wrestling with living in a house that was up for sale and not knowing when it would sell or where I was going to live. I have a lot of childhood triggers associated with moving, and for about a year, I periodically felt frantic. I would rush to half-baked actions where I’d consider to moving to places I didn’t really want to live, just so I could put a stop to the uncertainty and “be done”.

At the same time, a part of me really didn’t want to leave the house and I would scheme about ways I could stay in it (even though I had come to know that, energetically and financially, staying there was becoming a total struggle). It was a crazy time and I felt really ungrounded and just wanted it to end. (You can read more about this journey here.)

Then at some point — it was spring of 2015, I think — I got it. I realized I needed to accept where I was.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know when the house would sell or how quickly I’d need to get out. I didn’t know how I’d deal with the emotions I’d have about leaving the house. I didn’t know how my elderly cat would handle a move. I didn’t know how a move would affect my relationship. And a part of me still loved the house and didn’t want to go at all.

I remember sitting at the dining room table, looking out the window as winter melted away, and finally accepting the mess.

I didn’t accept ALL of it on that day — it had been a gradual process of accepting the external stuff and my own internal stuff. But on that day, I got clear enough to embrace the not knowing. I accepted where I was.

A decision bubbled up in me (to paraphrase Byron Katie, I didn’t make the decision, it made me). I was going to enjoy living in the house for as long as it felt right. I didn’t even know what that meant.

But it gave me some breathing room. That is what true acceptance does. We get off our own cases. We stop resisting the not knowing.

***

What happened after that? I enjoyed the house for a little longer, and by May, it felt right to look for a new place to live (even though the house hadn’t yet sold). Things seemed to fall into place without a lot of struggle — I was no longer wrestling with myself.

Looking back, it’s clear to me how my need to “know” before it was time to know caused me to try to control the situation and make decisions before they were ripe to be made. I think I needed to give myself the gift of a little more time to simply enjoy my longtime home, before I could truly embrace the idea of a new one.

And guess what? There was time. It was only my frantic mind that told me I needed to hurry up and get things decided. In my urge to move away from discomfort, I created more for myself.

This is another thing true acceptance gives us — time to be with our emotions. When we’re clear, we move on naturally. Things happen, and they don’t feel frantic. Acceptance didn’t cause me to cling to the house — it helped me let go of it.

What might change if you were to give yourself the gift of acceptance today? What do you notice when you allow yourself to accept where you are? What comes up for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I’ll be leading monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls starting January 31. On these calls, we’ll be focusing on the challenges inherent in making yourself AND your creative work a priority. (As I often say, creativity and self-care go hand-in-hand — you can’t truly have one without the other.) The calls are free — to get the details, sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, here. I’d love to have you there!

Above images are “Heart of Ice” © Olga Simakova | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “House Buried in Snow” © Lane Erickson | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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End-of-year rituals and inquiries

Thanks to a severe cold that triggered a sinus infection, I was down for the count for the week before Christmas and am not quite fully operational as of this writing. So I didn’t get to “part two” of my last post — but I promise the topic of reconnecting with your “why” will be addressed at some point in the New Year.

Something I really savor doing toward the end of the year is engaging in some reverent curiosity about what went down during the past twelve months.

As I wrote a while back, I’ve been doing an evening ritual (as often as I can, not quite every night) which has two parts: 1) I ask the question, “what worked today?” and 2) I write an “it’s-done” list (as opposed to a “to-do” list).

When I do this evening ritual — and fall asleep having done it — I notice I wake up with a much more peaceful, hopeful, and confident perspective than I do when I have not done it. (First thing in the morning is not naturally my best time of day.)

My end-of-year ritual is a similar process — I’m just looking with a broader eye at the “big picture” of the whole year (using “eagle vision”, as Martha Beck puts it, as opposed to the “mouse vision” that sees the details of a particular day).

But I like to riff on the question “What worked this year?” and add in a few more, such as:

What worked really well?

What surprised and delighted me?

When did I surprise myself (and how)?

What felt easy that has previously felt hard?

Where did I challenge myself and realize I was more than up to the challenge?

What were a few of my favorite things this year — and why? (One of my personal faves: Seeing Tori Amos perform for a sold-out house at the Chicago Theater in October!)

What qualities would I like more of in the coming year? (examples: trust, fortitude, lightness, softness, clarity, calm, spontaneity … you get the idea!)

What am I noticing I am ready to let go of in 2018?

Then, I dive into — and really relish — my “it’s done” list for the year. Any accomplishment — big, small, internal, external — anything that comes up for me from January through December — goes on the list.

What’s great about this is that — as with the “it’s done” list in my evening ritual — there are so many more things that I’ve done than I’ve actually acknowledged.

And it’s so important to acknowledge what we feel good about. Some of these accomplishments can be rather subtle (“I paused and counted to ten before reacting”) and we may forget about them. These are the ones that — in my humble opinion — are especially important to get on the list.

Maybe we made fewer assumptions about the behavior of others than we have in the past — or maybe we noticed our assumptions and questioned them more. This is huge, and should not be overlooked.

These are simply some suggestions, but however you go about making end-of-year inquiries and acknowledging what you’ve done, how you’ve changed, I encourage you to savor your own ritual. Light some candles, sit next to your Christmas tree (if you celebrate Christmas), curl up with a blanket next to your cat or dog (our animal companions tend to connect us to our hearts, which helps us get in touch with what we most cherish).

With that, I will sign off and continue extreme self-care so I can enter 2018 feeling as close to “normal” (whatever that is) as possible!

I look forward to connecting with you, dear readers, in the New Year. Hope your New Year’s has all the sparkle, hope, and glistening snowflakes you desire (or, if you’re not a cold-weather person, sun rays on your skin).

By the way, you can sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, to receive updates on my life coaching offerings and other good stuff, here. I’ll be creating some fun new things in 2018, so now’s a great time to sign up!

What are your end-of-year rituals, if you have them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images: Candles, © Easyshutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and second photo, close-up on my own Christmas tree.

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Your creative work: When your family doesn’t get it

A reader named Rebecca wrote recently with a terrific question. Rebecca explained that she is the only artist in a “non-artistic” family, and she has finally gotten herself into a position to pursue her artwork full-time. She continues:

I feel like in general our culture views art (and many forms of self-care like meditation, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries on how much you commit to, etc) with disdain.  Being able to stay on top of housework, cook more (and not resent it for taking up what little free time I had after work), spend time with my cats and finally make my passion a priority has made me SO happy lately!!  …Yet I still feel super self-conscious talking about it with most people (especially family), because if you’re not “contributing to society” -dare I say: economy- it’s viewed as “selfish”, “lazy”, and “unfair” since most people don’t have the privilege or opportunity.  And what counts, of course, is those measurable, tangible achievements.  Job titles and accomplishments. 

How can we keep from being shaken by the world around us that says, “Shame on you!  You ought to be doing _____ instead”, and really embrace the value of things like Art and self-care?  Naturally, I feel happier when I make art a priority, but inevitably there’s that voice deep down that sneers at me that I’m some kind of leech on society, just fooling around while everyone else works hard.  So that’s been a struggle in fully embracing this new life, despite finally “pulling it off”….

So … it strikes me that there are two parts to this question.

The first has to do with how (in many cases) it’s extra challenging to be an artist when we grew up in a situation where our creativity wasn’t supported, or maybe just not understood.

That’s because so much is going on with the development of our brains when we are young and tender.  (I can still remember putting on a play when I was about five and being laughed at. I thought I was doing something cool and important, and I was hit with derision. My brain started — at that very young age — to formulate a belief: expressing yourself creatively brings pain. Ouch!)

The second part of this question is about valuing our own creative work (or play, as I prefer to call it!). How do we do that when doing it flies in the face of a culture that values things like being constantly busy and bringing in X amount of dollars? I’ll touch on that part of the question here, but get into it more in depth in my next post.

I’m not going to pretend that I absolutely know the answers here. These inquiries are big, and complex, and important. Those of us who care about creativity and make it a focus in our lives will be working with these issues probably forever.

But I’ll start here.

It’s a universal human need to be seen and validated for being who we are. If we didn’t experience this as we were growing up, we have a sort of “extra hurdle” there, whether we deeply value creativity or not.

Add to that the fact that, yes, our “mainstream world” has typically made it challenging to be a creator (though I believe this is shifting in many ways right now), and salt is definitely sprinkled liberally on the wound that is already there.

Radical self-care is vital to robust creativity

I’m not surprised Rebecca mentioned the de-valuing of self-care in our Western culture as well. It’s fascinating to me that creativity (and the valuing of it) is not-so-loosely connected to self-care (and the valuing of it).  (I’ve written tons here on the topic of self-care as it relates to creativity, because the two are so deeply intertwined.)

I’ve noticed over the years, first when I was in grad school pursuing a degree in creative writing, and then, as I started working with life coaching clients back in 2011, that so many of us start out with this very natural creative curiosity and purpose — and then, we start to apply these ideas about “what it takes to make it in the world” to our creativity.

And we can end up very burned out, and, sometimes, very bitter and what I call “creatively confused.” This is where we’re like, “What the heck happened? I used to love [writing, acting, painting] and now I am sick of it. I just want to crawl into a hole.”

The thing is, this is almost always a lie. We’re not sick of whatever our creative thing is — we’re sick of the beliefs and the process that extends from those beliefs that we’ve created around our creative thing.

In other words, we have this tendency to recreate the family members that don’t get it, and the “world out there” which dictates that there isn’t real value or money in our creative work so why do it?, inside ourselves.

It’s kind of like how you might have had a lot of bad bosses when you were an employee, but when you shift to self-employment, if you don’t watch how you’re treating yourself, you can end up being the worst boss you ever had.

So to circle back to Rebecca’s excellent question: we need to commit to giving ourselves the permission, the kindness, the self-care, the encouragement, that we never got (and in many cases are not currently getting) from our families of origin and “the world”.

At a certain point, it is no longer about them — it is about us and the fact that we’ve recreated their lack of understanding and validation inside ourselves. And when we’re not giving it to ourselves, we want it from them (and the world) that much more.

We will feel shaken — and that’s okay

Okay — so, waaayyyy easier said than done, right? Because we are human — we’re vulnerable and fragile, and, as one of my friends says, “I keep getting stronger, but then some days I break all over again.” Yes. We do. We all do, some days.

So, we will be shaken by the world around us that does not seem to value our creative work, our need for self-care, and who we essentially are — on some days. It will happen.

Recognizing that it’s going to happen is important. Because then when it happens, we don’t have to be all appalled and frightened. In other words, we don’t have to be shaken about being shaken. We can just be like, “Oh — I’m noticing it’s happening again.”

Exquisite support: share deeply only with those who really get it

So that’s when we turn to our support systems — inner and outer. This is how we create for ourselves the world we want to live in.

This is when we turn to radical self-care, and to exquisite support — the people who really do get it. 

We are enormously blessed in this day and age that technology allows us to connect with people who get it, who get us. (I was curious about a line in a song on Tori Amos’s gorgeous new album recently and I asked the members of a Tori Facebook group what they thought it meant, and I received some beautifully detailed responses from people who’d also been pondering this same line in this same song literally within minutes.)

For many of us, this support must come from outside of our family of origin.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t work to heal from the past — we can and often must — but when we try to receive the exquisite support we require from the source of the original wounding (or simply lack of understanding), we are actually recreating our pain. (Or just banging our head against the wall. You may have heard the phrase “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.” It applies here.)

I am very careful about what I share with family members about my creative work. Because I value emotional connection so much, it’s easy for me to “overshare”, so I am mindful here.

Giving ourselves permission to be selective about who we share with is fundamental to self-care in this way. Notice who deeply sees and supports you, and who seems to stir up negative stuff for you. You can love people and still limit your discussions on certain topics with them.

(Note that your capacity to share with certain people may change from month to month, year to year, depending on where you are and what you’re going through — and vice versa.)

***

The other thing, which is foundational, is to remind yourself regularly of your why? Why is what you’re creating important to you? When you are deeply in touch with your “why”, your creative purpose has strong roots and you are not as easily shaken.

Surround yourself with the conditions — as much as you can — that remind you of your why and validate it, that help you remember it is important, it is worthwhile.

(In the next post, we’ll get into what to do when you’ve lost touch with your “why.”)

There is so much more here. For now, I’ll let you take the wheel. What do you think? How do you reaffirm your belief in your creativity and support yourself in making it a focus? I’d love to hear from you. And huge thanks to Rebecca for this excellent inquiry.

Above images © Grafvision | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Refat Mamuto | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Avoiding vs. replenishing (+ last chance to sign up for my fall coaching special)

Fall walks: so replenishing!

As we head into the holiday season, overwhelm is a topic that comes up for many of us (particularly if we are highly sensitive, empaths, or introverts — or all of the above!).

When we feel overwhelmed (or are anticipating becoming overwhelmed), it’s tempting to go into “avoidance” mode. This can feel like the equivalent of putting our hands over our heads and saying “I can’t! No more!” — and retreating. And not returning.

Sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to avoid something. It may be totally wrong for us.

But we don’t have to stay in the energy of avoidance. Have you noticed what avoidance feels like? Have you noticed that avoiding something actually takes a lot of energy from you?

Replenishing is different. Replenishing ourselves is recognizing that we’ve had enough, and retreating for a while to rebalance and rejuvenate, and then emerging — replenished.

I’ve noticed that, if I can trust in my ability and willingness to replenish myself, I don’t have to avoid as much. What a relief! Because a lot of avoidance is flat-out exhausting.

If we’re going to replenish ourselves, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

That might look like leaving a party early, when we recognize we’ve had enough (rather than avoiding the party).

It might look like opting to stay in a hotel rather than with relatives (instead of avoiding the trip altogether!).

It might look like giving ourselves lots and lots of breaks while we get the house ready for guests (noticing our energy levels). (Or, my favorite: being okay with getting a C+ in housekeeping.)

It might mean choosing to let something go, so we can have more energy for something that’s more important to us. (For me, this is often letting go of my need to “do it right” and reminding myself that just my presence is of value to the people I love.)

What do you notice about how you feel when you avoid something, versus committing to replenishing yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you the joys of replenishing yourself this holiday season (and Happy Thanksgiving, if you are U.S.-based). And if you need permission to do that — well, here it is!

(If you need further support for dealing with holiday socializing when you’re an introvert, you might want to check out this post I wrote back in 2014.)

Speaking of replenishing yourself: Tomorrow, November 22, is the last day to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you need support in navigating a challenging transition in your life right now, I’d love to help! You can learn more about these sessions here.

Also, you can sign up for my newsletter (for updates on my offerings and other good stuff) here.

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Allow yourself comfort — and see what happens

Toward the end of the year, I always find myself thinking back on the dear one-on-one coaching clients I’ve worked with, and what comes back to me about the work we’ve done together.

This year, I notice I’m thinking about comfort.

It seems there was a theme this year of my clients realizing that it was okay to allow themselves comfort.

That comfort did not have to be used as a reward, for when they were done with “the hard work” — it did not have to be dangled as a carrot to be consumed at the end of a lot of toil.

Comfort — amazingly! — could actually be part of the process.

I think I’ve written here before that “break out of your comfort zone” is not one of my favorite phrases. I’ve just never found it inspiring (though I totally get the meaning behind it).

There are a couple of reasons I dislike this saying. One of them is that I’ve seen many people — including myself — push themselves way too far out of their so-called “comfort zones”, to the point of having panic attacks, meltdowns, even breaking bones or pushing themselves through illness to try to compete in some way.

The other is that it indicates that being “comfortable” is somehow bad or wrong or self-indulgent. But for those of us who, perhaps, grew up without an adequate feeling of comfort and/or safety in our lives, this is inaccurate.

As I’ve written before, if you have a tendency to push yourself really hard (as most of my clients do), you probably need more comfort, not more withholding comfort from yourself.

And is it true that adding comfort to your “hard work” will keep you from getting it done?

Here’s what some of my clients found this year:

• The client who rewarded himself for completing his work on his writing project by taking his dog for a walk discovered that when he took his dog for a walk before he started writing, it actually helped him write better. He felt more centered and more creative. His body felt better because he’d moved it before sitting down (and his dog slept through the writing period rather than reminding him that it was time to go out!).

• The client who rewarded herself with a hot cup of tea after getting through a challenging weekly meeting found that allowing herself the tea during the meeting actually reminded her it was okay to show up as herself and be gentler with herself (and that warmth was an important thing to focus on when the “tough stuff” in these meetings arose!).

• The client who had recently left a long-term relationship found that allowing herself to stay home on the weekends wrapped in a blanket on the couch and watching Netflix was helping her grief process a lot more than “being productive” on the weekends (which was her usual approach!).

When we allow ourselves comfort, we are also choosing to trust ourselves, and to trust the process of life.

When I work with people who are in the midst of major transitions in their lives, 99.9 percent of the time they say that they just want to be out of the transition and that they are “moving too slowly” and that they need me to help them hurry up.

And I always say exactly what they think they don’t want to hear (but that brings some part of them deep relief): When we’re in a stressful transition, it’s helpful to allow ourselves to go slow. It’s not the time to make big moves and it’s definitely not the time to “break out of our comfort zone”.

In fact, we’re in transition because either we’ve chosen to leave the known and familiar behind — or because it’s been ripped away from us (and we had no choice in the matter).

What I have continually found in my own life is that when I’m in the midst of something really hard and I finally surrender to the fact that it is hard, and I can’t go as fast as I’d like because there is so much internal and external stuff to work through — when I accept that this is where I am and actually allow myself some comfort, that is exactly when things begin to transform. It’s exactly when I begin to relax into the new “me” I’m becoming.

But as long as I’m fighting things and trying to “tough my way through” what’s already hard, I am not allowing the space (or the comfort) to relax enough to welcome the new.

I’ve also noticed (as I wrote about here) that when I allow more softness into a task or a journey that feels hard, I do not become an overindulged mess. I actually feel far more capable, confident, and I enjoy what I’m doing a heck of a lot more.

I invite you to test this out for yourself. Where can you allow yourself a little more comfort? What happens when you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of transitions, the deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is Wednesday, November 22. If you’re in an “in-between” place (with your creative work, a relationship, or some other aspect of your life) this fall and needing some support, I’d love to help. You can learn more about my Autumn Transition Sessions here.

Above images of tea cup © Jill Battaglia  | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and candles © Diana Constantin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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